Cthulhu's Spawn of The Depths - Abyss: Kraken Review

Abyss, another of my favourite games from 2014 gets an expansion and in some ways it's about time! Very little was revealed about this until close to the release date and so the anticipation level was high for picking it up at Essen. Abyss was a huge surprise for me when I played it having only really seen the
various box covers and not knowing many, if any reviewers that had actually picked it up and played the game. Just noticed I haven't reviewed it yet either outside of the podcast or talking about its amazing artwork - I shall have to rectify that at some point so there's a teaser for you. So much to
write, so little time, I wish I had the means to do video reviews again. Ah well bide your time Luke, find a new house to move into in the next few months and plan ahead for the rebirth - oh yeah I got ideas for Broken Meeple's future!

Given that not a huge amount of buzz was being received for this I did have my doubts as to how good it was going to be. But with a cheap price point and the fact I love the original, it was going to be a must-buy for me and perhaps in some respect that was better as you know my stance when games get too much hype for their own good. And in the highly unlikely Worst case scenario of it not being very good, at least I would have extremely good looking coasters to use. So let's plunge deeper into the watery depths of Abyss and see what's what!





Designer: - Bruno Cathala & Charles Chevallier (2015)
Publisher: - Bombyx / Asmodee
Players: 2-4
Age: 14+
Time: 45-90 Minutes
Rating: 7.95


Release The Kraken!!


Here we have an expansion that adds a few extra bits and bobs to the main game, but it essentially boils down to three aspects. Firstly you have some additional Lords and Locations, the former of which include not only additional ones for the 5 guilds in the base game, but also a 6th guild of Smugglers with their own unique abilities, mostly linked to the other parts of this expansion. All of these are shuffled seamlessly with the original lords to add more variety. . . . . well almost seamlessly, more on that later.

Secondly there is the new black pearl currency called the Nebulis gained by dealing with allies of the Kraken, a new wild card for the purpose of recruiting lords (i.e. they count as any faction). The potential gains can be great, however they won't ally with you for end-game points and holding on to too many Nebulis pearls can result in substantial point losses.

Lastly there is the Loot deck. Think of this as treasure hunting. Some locations will simply grant you access to the Loot deck, which involves a push your luck mechanic of drawing cards for points and special rewards, but should you draw one number twice, those are discarded and you take what's left. Nothing complex here either, however I'll rant about this one later.



One word of warning though - if you were in love with the original insert, you're kissing it goodbye with this expansion. And on top of that, the expansion box is too long to put inside the main game box as well. Seriously what's up with that?


Corruption In The Senate


The main part of this expansion is the new Nebulis currency mechanic, which doesn't actually require a great deal of explanation beforehand if you already know the general gist of how pearls and allies work. It plays similarly to the Corruption mechanic from Lords of Waterdeep in that these new black pearls can help you achieve more in the game, but at the cost of negative points if you're stuck with them. And worse still, if you're the most corrupted player (i.e. holding the Kraken miniature) you'll lose even more points.

Now the Corruption mechanic was a great addition in LoW, having a considerable impact on how the game played. Here it is a lot more subtle on how it affects the game, but it makes enough of a difference that you can't simply ignore it. The wild allies may not get you points by themselves, but they make recruiting lords that much easier. And of course the Nebulis pearls function like normal money, except you can only get rid of one at a time and only when you're out of regular pearls.

This means players have to plan ahead to get rid of them if they want to avoid the negative points and when the games are usually quite tight, they can change the outcome. That doesn't mean you have to panic though because you may decide that a couple of points lost is fine when looking at the bigger picture, especially if another player is more corrupted than you are. Remember the old saying about only having to be faster than your friend with regards to zombies? Well the same principle applies here - you don't have to be free of corruption, just less than someone else!

It's easily the best part of the expansion for me as not only do you have more options to consider for getting money and lords, but the dynamic of monitoring the corruption within the group gives the game even more depth (pun intended) from the base game, but without turning it into a brainburner.


There's Treasure To Be Had, But Was It Worth It?


However here is the part that I'm not so thrilled about. The Loot deck is basically "push your luck" personified and doesn't even come into play in the game except for four new locations that you quite likely might not even see when you consider just how many locations exist already. It's a bit like the War rules from Race for the Galaxy and look at the reception to that one. You can actually omit teaching these rules at the start of the game and worry about it later, that's how rare you will likely see it.

But basically as you take a location that triggers it, you draw a card from the Loot deck which has a certain number of points (between 3 and 7) as well as a special bonus, be it a key or pearls, etc. You can continue drawing, but should you draw a card that duplicates the points value of a previously drawn one, you lose both and are left with the remaining cards. That's basically it and as you can see, it's simple enough, but here's my problem with it.

For a game that wowed me with the depth it had in the gameplay, this feels like a step backward. The Loot deck is entirely based on luck and it's incredibly swingy at that. The potential point gain is anywhere from zero to 25 and considering most locations tend to average around 7-12 points in a typical game of Abyss, you can see just how much of a difference getting lucky or unlucky on this deck makes and I haven't even mentioned the keys and pearls yet. Imagine if you took all the effort to get 3 keys only to end up with a location that scored you zero points because you drew two cards in a
row that cancelled each other out. That's pretty damaging, enough to maybe cost you the game.

So yeah, this is definitely the weakest part of Kraken, but if you think the same as me, all you have to do to remove it is take out four locations and you're set. I already take out the location that allows you to search and choose anyway so for me it's not a big deal.


Too Many Parties, Who Do I Vote For?


I hesitate a little about using the word "seamlessly" when going over the new Lord cards earlier. Now providing you're using the other expansion additions, they can indeed be simply mixed with the others. . . however . . .you may recall that one of the end-game triggers in the base game was the Lord deck running out of cards. Now granted that happened a lot less often than a player gaining 7 Lords, but once you add these new ones in, you can basically just avoid explaining that rule ever again as there's no amendment during setup to keep the Lord deck at the same size.

So you've just increased the Lord deck by 18 cards - If the other end condition didn't exist you would have basically just extended the game length without even trying. House ruling a means to remove some Lords at random at the start may work, but you'd have to keep the spread even throughout the
guilds otherwise you risk unbalancing the usefulness of the allies. As I said though, the game rarely ended in that way so this is very minor quibble, but this basically just ensures that it will NEVER end that way. Very few people ever bothered to take the optional action to pay pearls to bring out more
Lords (though I did try an interesting strategy of racing towards the endgame in this way while focusing on the Merchant lords), and now there's often very little point in it.



Verdict



It is refreshing to see an expansion for a game that was in my Top 20 as I felt it was due for one. Of course much like with Takenoko: Chibi's I didn't want an expansion that complicated things too much. Thankfully for the most part Kraken meets this requirement. The new Lords including the new Smugglers guild are easy to implement and add to the variety, but be wary of the end-game trigger issue. The highlight is clearly the Nebulis pearl currency which is easy to teach to a new player, yet gives more options for how they wish to work towards their end goals while impacting on the final scoring in a meaningful way.

The Loot deck however is the weak element as I find it's just far too swingy. Some will be fine with the push your luck mechanic here but it's almost at the point where I'd rather just not play with it or the locations that utilise it as it relies heavily on luck for its outcome.

So it's a mixed bag overall, but I still feel it's decent enough as the majority of this expansion works well being the new Lords and the Nebulis pearls. It is however not essential or even that necessary unless you're a fan of the game already. I'm glad I have it and will always use the Nebulis currency
and new Lords, but the casual player of Abyss won't need to rush out and get it desperately. At least they didn't add a 5th player. . .



YOU WILL LIKE THIS GAME IF:


You like the sound of the Nebulis currency and want a similar kind of impact that Skullport gave to Lords of Waterdeep.

You don't want to complicate or extend the original game too much.

You want to add to the variety of Lords available in the game - although bare in mind the bulking issue of the deck.



YOU WILL NOT LIKE THIS GAME IF:


If you weren't a fan of Abyss - the new mechanics don't change the game dramatically from how it operates.

If you don't like the sound of the Loot deck and feel it doesn't hold enough value after that.

You loved the original insert, because once you get this expansion, it's going bye bye and so is the expansion box!


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